"The result is that those who have unique voices switch to writing best-selling formula or quit. And editors ask for fresh voices!" IJ Parker

I lifted that quote off of the Kool-Aid thread, because it got me thinking about something that came up on a discussion list that's been bugging me for a few days.

The comment on the list was that if writers are in the business mainly to make money they're in the wrong business.

Anyone who follows it will know what I'm talking about. They will also know about the ongoing discussions of what you can - and cannot - include in your books. No dead puppies. Not too much sex. Not too much violence or showing blood. A fictional disease might be better than giving a character cancer, etc. etc. etc.

What I really want to say is that if I'm required to follow a checklist of what is and is not acceptable to include in my book, shouldn't I expect to be well paid? I mean, it's hardly writing for love anymore, is it? It's writing to meet the preferences of certain outspoken readers.

And here's the sad truth, that brings me back to IJ's comment: Probably few authors on here could honestly say that they haven't made some compromise with their work in order to get it published. Now, for the majority of people it was probably something minor - changing a character name, toning up or down the violence in a scene accordingly, etc - but in some cases it becomes something major. I had to put my first book in the US. And here's the thing: We applaud authors who do a wonderful job utilizing the setting and making it a character in books and then we tell other writers "Great stuff, move it to a US city." Move it somewhere we've never been, no offer to pay to send us there for setting research, pretty well guarantee we can't capture the essence of the place.

That's been my little bugbear. I thought it would be easier if I went with a Canadian agent, and found he also wanted me to move my new manuscript south of the border. The biggest problem was that the premise for the whole book was such that even in some cities in Canada it couldn't work: it needed a fire department that operated on a certain system. I'd done my homework. As much as we all take some fictional liberties from time to time, moving the book would have compromised it's authenticity to the point of making it a joke.

And what nobody seems to understand (maybe because I'm odd?) is that I'd rather make less money than sell out.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying anything against the learning curve involved in improving your writing so that it's sellable. But I see so many stories being touted as a 'highly original' when they're the same old recycled themes from B movies last decade.

And don't misunderstand - I'm happy to work with an editor. I pray more for a great editor than anything else - the friends I know who have them can't say enough about how fortunate they are. I'd consider all revisions suggested for valid reasons. For example, naming characters is a tough thing for me but I'd rename without question if an editor wanted me to - stuff like that doesn't bug me, but just relocating a story for the hell of it does.

Consider this: This was my attempt at a big conspiracy-theory novel, set partly in the USA (a country I'd never visited) and with a lot of humour. It involves space shuttles and spy satellites and all that sort of thing. Unfortunately, my editor of the time didn't like it, and had me make masses of changes - taking out the humour and the US settings, for example - by the end of which I felt the book had ceased to be mine; it wasn't the story I'd wanted to tell in the first place. I don't think I could bear to read it now... and it's out of print anyway. Ian Rankin, speaking about Westwind.

Have you ever thought about what price is too high for being published? Any of you who've had to make a difficult decision? Any chance that stifling some of the originality of talented authors is contributing to a decline in reading - people turned off by the same old, same old? (I certainly know that when I get something that's predictable and boring me to tears I start playing Mahjong.)

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Ods bodkins Vincent, thank you for the title of my next book. And that appears to be the author photo sorted too :o)
What a great discussion! It's such a difficult question, and begs to be answered with "it depends."

With music, I am very particular, and with teaching, even more so. I hate, hate, hate sacrificing what I believe to be best for the almighty dollar. For some odd reason, I don't seem to have those principles with writing. When I write, the story seems to grow fuzzier and fuzzier the more I've worked on it, so I tend to believe the editor can see the big picture better than I can.

However, we all have our limits. I was once asked to make a story a little more Christian so it could be marketed as Inspirational. I couldn't do that, so I had to say no, even though I knew I would lose out on some money because of the decision.

So ... it depends. ;-)
I think that's the ultimate answer. There are certain things I'd negotiate in certain stories that I wouldn't consider with others. It would depend on how critical I felt the element was to the story. Moving SC to the US wasn't easy (in terms of knowing where to put it) but SC was more about themes that were universal. Other stuff I've written has utilized the setting in a different way. Like I said about this current ms, the setting is critical to the believability. Given a choice between not selling and relocating it south of the border I won't sell it.
Speaking as one who has been forced to make changes for the very reason Anne mentioned, though in fairness it was for a second editor after my long-time editor had been forced into retirement, I say DO NOT MAKE CHANGES in anything that really matters to you. Your gut will tell you what's a big change and what's a minor revision. (The head doesn't always know the difference.)

This ability to refuse changes can only be done successfully if you can live, supply your basic needs such as food clothing and shelter, without having to depend on income from your writing, with or without a day job. That's why I say that now writing has joined the other arts in being something no one should ever count on being able to earn a living at.

"That's why I say that now writing has joined the other arts in being something no one should ever count on being able to earn a living at."

Not many jobs can be relied on to earn a living at! Seriously, other than being a journalist, I'm not sure writing was ever something you could guarantee earning a living at.
Interesting discussion Sandra.

I've never compromised beyond the level of basic editing. I also have to say though, that with one exception I was never asked to compromise - the Americans wanted more closure at the end of "Among the Dead", so I told them to skip that book and wait for the next one. They might well have been right, but for good or bad, I wrote the book I wrote and that's how it has to be.
Kevin, I've heard that 'closure' complaint re: US publishers from others. I admire the willingness to stick to your principles. In that situation I actually know that a lot of US readers don't like the "Americanizing" of British novels (I blogged about this after doing a reader survey some time ago) and many will order the book from overseas or Canada to ensure they get what they consider to be an authentic version.
My take on this would be that I would change a lot to get a first novel published (believing that others may know best) but hopefully I would have more say after that. I have made changes on a few short stories lately; boosting the level of violence to suit zine needs. So who am I to say i wouldn't do the same to get a novel published? Growing confidence and sales change everything perhaps. At least I hope so.
Yes, that's what I was thinking when I said to Ray about level of experience. With first novels I think we're often more open. Or maybe just some of us are, but in general, I'm always willing to listen to an editor. And sit on their suggestions, process them, and then make reasoned decisions. If I feel they're suggesting a change that adds to the story I'll definitely consider it. I guess, I'll consider just about anything but whether or not I agree will depend on how significantly the change impacts my original vision for the work. I had someone who didn't like character names in a story once, so I changed them.

In the same way, with edits for Spinetingler, most are negotiable. What I consider more is the manner a writer addresses them. I've had some be completely rude. Some refuse to make any changes at all with no reasoning (including correcting typos). Some process them, take some, explain why they aren't taking others. Others do everything. It more or less tells me who I want to work with again and who I wouldn't edit if I took them in the future. When people get rude about it I basically take the, "Okay, from here on anything from you must be letter perfect" approach because I won't ask volunteers to spend time editing someone who's proven 'difficult'.
As a new author, seeking his first book deal, I'm going in with the attitude that the editor is always right. Maybe later on, when I get more experience in publishing and some sales under my belt, I can start talking about my "vision." Right now, I'll make whatever changes they ask for, knowing that all concerned want to produce the best book possible.
i had just the opposite experience. my first thriller was published with very little editorial input and i didn't even have to think about compromising. it was accepted the way it was written. but then it did really well, and that changed everything. for book 2 the editorial involvement at the outline and plot level was intense and lasted several months. six months, i believe. i had a two-book contract, and probably turned in 20 plot ideas that were rejected while my deadline approached. i finally realized i had to go in their softer women's fiction direction or nothing would move forward. so for me a fair amount of success brought about a massive loss of control. the books that followed didn't sell as well, so now i've gone full circle and the book coming out in december had no editorial involvement beyond the normal. NOT HOT. HOT. NOT HOT. :D i completely support myself with my writing, so i have to write for money. i used to think i could do what christa does and write both kinds of books, love and money, but i've found i don't have the time or energy for the luv.
This is all so bleak, along with your thoughts on self-promotion a few days ago, which I shared with several people in my writing groups. I have to say a number of writers close to me are experiencing the same loss of energy and optimism re: the profession and their future in it. If a writer's time, money and energy is going to be spent on promoting material that has actually been crafted (dictated) by others, why do it? Why don't publishers find a way to survive on smaller sales? Which they will have to do very quickly given the number of people I see in bookstores lately. And not just here. They were big, empty drafty buildings in London, Budapest and Vienna two weeks ago.


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